On February 6, the Suns traded Marion and Marcus Banks (he needs a first name intro) for The Big Shaqtus. I was enraged—just like every other Phoenician in the Valley of the Suns.
Marion has been a fan favorite since the Suns drafted him. He is a great basketball player that is as flexible as anyone we have EVER seen in the league. He could guard Chris Paul one night and Tim Duncan the next, and still put up 15 points and 10 boards.
Off the court, Marion is a wonderful figure to have in the community. He was constantly running his own charity events in the Phoenix area and getting other big names to help him.
Losing his presence, I thought, would send us into a downward spiral, and might mean the demise of the Suns.
March 9 rolls around, The Suns are 3-6 with Shaq on the court. While the Phoenix organization is preaching patience with the team; all you hear about on SportsCenter and local radio is how much trouble the Suns are in and how they are done being a powerhouse.
I actually started to buy into it a bit. There are only 20 games left, and I know Suns need to learn how to play more efficient halfcourt offense when Shaq is in the game.
But the 3-6 record with Shaq is all that has mattered to people. Not the fact that they played the Lakers, Pistons, and Celtics in a row, not to mention the Hornets, Jazz, Nuggets, Blazers and a surprisingly hot Philly squad in those nine games.
Those are some very good teams right there. The Lakers are playing the best ball in the league. The Pistons and Celtics are the rolling through the JV League. The Hornets and Jazz could come out of the West to the Finals. The Blazers are much improved, Philly had won four in a row and 12 of 15—no, I don't think the Sixers are for real, but still.
Seven of those teams are going to the playoffs. The Suns could have very easily gone 3-6 with Marion—ANY team could have. But all everyone heard about was the record, not who the Suns played, and how it was all because of this "travesty of a trade!"
And then it happened: the unanimous preseason pick for the Western Conference Championship Game. The San Antonio Spurs, our most hated rival and our toughest opponent over the last five years, came to town. This was the game that was going to tell us how far the Suns had "fallen"—if that was the case.
This game and every other from here on out, is all about turnovers for the Suns. With Shaq they had averaged a horrific 15-plus turnovers per game in their losses; and had been outscored by at least seven points off turnovers in each game. You can't consistently win in the NBA, no matter how good you are, by averaging more TOs and fewer Points off TOs.
On Sunday, the Spurs only coughed the ball up 10 times. Even though 10 TOs is pretty low, the Suns' D played extremely well against San Antonio. Instead of turning the ball over, the Spurs were forced into bad shots and shot just 35 percent from the field.
And while the Suns may have turned the ball over 14 times, they scored four more points off TOs than the Spurs did.
All is fine in Phoenix again—we beat the damn Spurs.
We now have the opportunity to prove what I am preaching here—we have turned the corner. All season, Phoenix has had trouble putting away weaker teams. It is a curse that the Suns have been given by the basketball gods. How long have we been saying that for—five years?
Tonight we play the lowly Grizzlies, who we played in Memphis on Feb. 26th. We won that game by 14, but it was an ugly win. The score was 116-110 with 1:45 to go. Rudy Gay torched us for 36 on 14-27 shooting, and Mike Miller was injured.
Shaq only played 24 minutes, the lowest total he has had with the Suns since his acquisition. That was also the only game that the Grizzlies scored over 90 points without Miller, 113.
This game will be close until the end of the second quarter. The Suns will beat the Grizzlies up on the interior on offense and defense, and Memphis will wear down. Their club is not deep, and if Stoudemire and Shaq can stay out of foul trouble. they will eat the Grizzlies alive.
The Suns will get into the bonus early on this team as well in every quarter and Kwame will probably foul out. Phoenix should smash the Grizzlies by 15 points or more. And even if that doesn't happen, I still won't be worried.
Suns fans need to listen to the organization—which has been honest with them from day one—and be patient.
Phoenix has the toughest schedule in the league for the rest of the year, so the Suns' record might not be great—but look deeper, be a real fan, and see if the team continues to show the caliber of play we saw against S.A.
The Suns are fine, and will continue to prove that all the way to the promised land—the NBA Title.
On the streets of Phoenix, the second coming wears No. 32 with the "S" on his chest.